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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Cord; Diplomacy; Rope; Sackcloth; Thompson Chain Reference - Benhadad; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Sackcloth; Syria;
Verse 31. Put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads — Let us show ourselves humbled in the deepest manner, and let us put ropes about our necks, and go submitting to his mercy, and deprecating his wrath. The citizens of Calais are reported to have acted nearly in the same way when they surrendered their city to Edward III., king of England, in 1346. See at the end. 1 Kings 20:43.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/1-kings-20.html. 1832.
Defeat of Ben-hadad (20:1-43)
Ahab appeared to be in serious trouble when a combined army of Syria (Aram) and neighbouring states besieged the Israelite capital Samaria and demanded heavy payments. Ahab at first submitted (20:1-4), but when their demands increased, he changed his mind and decided to fight (5-12).
A prophet assured Ahab that God would give Israel victory (13-15). Ahab’s plan, based on the prophet’s advice, was to send a large group of young men ahead to distract the Syrians, then follow with a surprise attack by his army. Ahab won a decisive victory, but was warned to be ready for a further battle the following spring (16-22).
The Syrians improved the combined fighting force by replacing the allied commander-kings with their own professional soldiers. They also thought they had a better chance of victory by changing the location of the battle to a region where their gods were stronger. Again Israel won, proving to the Syrians (and to Ahab) that they were mistaken in thinking God’s power was limited to only certain places (23-30).
Ahab captured the enemy king Ben-hadad, but let him go after Ben-hadad agreed to give back to Israel territory that Syria had previously seized. The two kings also made a trade agreement that was very favourable to Israel. This cooperation with Syria was no doubt intended to give Israel added strength against any possible invader, but it would not have been necessary had Ahab trusted in God, as his recent victory should have taught him (31-34). A young prophet acted a parable to show Ahab that because he rejected a God-given opportunity to destroy the enemy once and for all, that enemy would return and bring increasing suffering upon Israel (35-43).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/1-kings-20.html. 2005.
AHAB FOOLISHLY MADE A COVENANT WITH "BROTHER BEN-HADAD"
"And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, we pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; peradventure he will save thy life. So they put sackcloth on their loins, and ropes upon their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother. Now the men observed diligently, and hasted to catch whether it were his mind; and they said, Thy brother Benhadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Benhadad said unto him, The cities which my father took from thy father I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. And I, said Ahab, will let thee go with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him and let him go."
What an incredibly stupid and ridiculous thing was this that Ahab did, allowing Benhadad to announce the terms upon which he received his life and his freedom. What about all that gold and silver that Ahab had paid prior to the first battle? Why did he not demand its re-payment? Benhadad did not even promise to build streets for Ahab in Damascus, but would allow Ahab to build them! And those cities Benhadad promised to give Ahab, they already belonged to Israel! Poor Ahab here "brothered" himself out of the spoils that should have belonged to the victor; and as a prophet soon would tell him, he had "brothered" himself out of his own life as well!
"To set free a man with passionate hatred, immense ambitions, and boundless capacities for warfare, binding him only with a pack-thread of insincere promises was the conduct of a fool. It was a terrible treachery against the interests of God's people for Ahab not to clip Benhadad's wings and make him incapable of future injuries against Israel." "Ordinary gratitude to God should have prompted Ahab to inquire of the Lord what his duty was in this situation; Ahab's conduct was unjustifiable." "It was Ahab's duty to punish this bitter foe of Israel with death."
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-kings-20.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
And ropes upon our heads - “Ropes about our necks” is probably meant. They, as it were, put their lives at Ahab’s disposal, who, if he pleased, might hang them at once.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-kings-20.html. 1870.
Now Benhadad who was presently the king of Syria gathered all of his host together: and there were thirty-two kings that went with him, with their horses, and chariots: and they came up and besieged Samaria, and they warred against it. And he sent messengers to Ahab the king of Israel the city, and he said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad, Thy silver and thy gold is mine; your wives and your children, the best of everything you have, is mine. And so the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to your saying, I am thine, and all that I have ( 1 Kings 20:1-4 ).
So he asked for complete capitulation. I want all your gold and silver. I want all your wives, all your, you know, all of your possessions. So Ahab was surrendering. He said, "Everything I have is yours."
So Benhadad wasn't satisfied.
He sent back his messengers again, and said, Thus speaketh Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto you, saying that you shall deliver to me your silver, gold, wives, and children; Yet I will send my servants unto you to morrow about this time, and they will search through your house, and the house of your servants; and it shall be, whatever is pleasant in their eyes, they shall put it in their hand, and take it away. And the king of Israel called his elders together, and he said, Mark, I pray you, look how this guy is just really seeking a fight: he doesn't want just our gold and silver and wives; he wants a fight. And so all the elders that were with him said, Don't hearken to him, don't consent. Therefore he sent messengers to Benhadad, he said, Tell my lord the king, All that you did send for your servant at the first will do: but this other request that you have made we're not going to do it. And so the messengers departed, brought him word again. And Benhadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so to me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for the handfuls for all the people that follow me ( 1 Kings 20:5-10 ).
And he said, "If everyone took the dust of Samaria, there wouldn't be enough for the number of people I have to even have a fistful of dirt. I got so many people that I'm coming against you with."
And so the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as though he was putting it off ( 1 Kings 20:11 ).
In other words, don't count your chickens before they hatch.
And so it came to pass, when Benhadad heard this message, as he was drinking, and his kings in the pavilions, he said to his servants, Set yourselves in array. And so they set themselves in battle array against the city. And, behold, there came a prophet to Ahab the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Have you seen this great multitude? behold, I'm going to deliver it into your hand today; and you will know that I am the LORD. So Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Even by the young men the princes of the provinces. Then he said, Who shall order the battle? And he said, You. And so Ahab numbered the young men, the princes from the provinces, there were two hundred and thirty two: after them he numbered the people, all of the children of Israel, seven thousand. They went out at noon. And old Benhadad was drinking himself drunk in his pavilions, he with his kings. And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first; Benhadad sent out, and told them, saying, [There are. They sent. They came to Benhadad and said] There are men coming out of Samaria. And so he said, Have they come out if they've come out for peace, take them alive; if they've come out for war, take them alive. So the young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army followed them. And they slew every one his man: the Syrians fled; Israel pursued them: Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on a horse with his horsemen. And so the king of Israel went out, and he smote the horses, the chariots, he slew the Syrians with a great slaughter. And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto him, Go and strengthen yourself, and mark, and see what you are doing: for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against you again ( 1 Kings 20:12-22 ).
In other words, now strengthen yourself, fortify things, because at the end of the year the guy is going to be back.
And so the servants of the king of Syria said unto them, The problem is their gods are the gods of the hills; that's why they were able to defeat you; now if you could fight them in the valley, then you could defeat them ( 1 Kings 20:23 ).
Because their gods are the gods of the hills and not the gods of the valleys. Now of course, they thought of gods in localized sense. We should never think of God in a localized sense. God is what we say omnipresent. That means he's everywhere at once. Therefore, it is wrong to think of God in a locality. Sometimes we think of God in a localized sense in heaven. And he seems very far off and remote because I don't know where heaven is. It's out there in space somewhere. But I'm pointing out in the space this way but you know if you realize the earth is actually round, and so you'll be pointing down that way through the earth and not in space in the other direction. So I may head out, you know, in space looking for God but I may be going the wrong direction in space, if I think of God in a locality, you know, heaven, wherever that may be.
Or if I think of God here in the church, in a locality. And so often even in our prayers we sort of express the idea of God dwelling here. "Lord, we are so thankful that we can come into Your presence this evening. We can gather here together in Your presence." Hey, you were in His presence when you left home tonight. You were in His presence when you were driving out here. You can't escape the presence of God. And thus it's wrong to think of God in a locality. And yet that was the pagan concept of God. He's the god of the hills. And that was your problem. You let them fight you in the hills and their god is the god of the hills. That's why you were defeated. Next time fight them in the valleys because their god is the god of the hills, not the god of the valleys and you'll be able to defeat them, so they said.
Now gather your army again, all of the kings, all of the chariots. And go up again the second time. And so Benhadad gathered the forces of Syria together and he came up to Aphek to fight against Israel.
And the children of Israel were numbered, all that were present, went out against them: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids ( 1 Kings 20:27 );
They were totally, hopelessly outnumbered.
but the Syrians filled the country ( 1 Kings 20:27 ).
They were just like two little flocks. And here the whole vast number of Syrians.
And there came a man of God, and spake to the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is the God of the hills, but not the God of the valleys, therefore I'm going to deliver this great multitude into your hand, and ye shall know that I am the LORD ( 1 Kings 20:28 ).
Now the interesting thing to me at this point is that though Ahab had turned against God and was a very wicked king, still God was continuing to speak to him. You know, though you may turn your back on God, and though you may go your own way, God continues to speak to you. God doesn't just forsake you and let you go, though you may have forsaken Him. God is continuing to speak after this guy has turned his back. So long his back has been turned against God and yet God is still speaking to him. As God continues to speak to you because He loves you and He's seeking to draw you unto Himself, and thus God doesn't cease His work speaking to man.
And so the children of Israel came against them and they're in the valleys and wiped out the Syrians really worse this time than before. The Syrians were fleeing. Benhadad was captured and he was brought back.
And he said unto him, The cities, that my father took from your father, I'm going to restore them; and you shall make streets we'll make streets for you in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. And then Ahab said to him, I will send you away with this covenant. So he made a treaty with him, and sent him away. And a certain man, one of the sons of the prophets came and said to his neighbour, Smite me, I pray you. And the man refused to smite him. Then he said, [All right, because you've refused to smite me,] you've not obeyed the voice of the LORD, so as soon as you depart from here, a lion is going to slay you. So as soon as the man departed from the prophet, a lion slew him. So he found another man, he said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, in that he was wounded. And so he came and he waited for Ahab to come along, he disguised himself, he put ashes upon his face. And the king passed by, and he cried to Ahab: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: and if by any means he is missing, then we'll require your life for him. And this man got away from me and now they want to kill me. And Ahab said, You pronounced your own judgment; you said that it was your life for his life and you let him get away. [Man, you've set your own judgment.] And so the guy took off the disguise; and the king of Israel discerned that he was one of the prophets. And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because you have let go out of your hand the man who I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people. And the king of Israel went home [and he began to live more carefully from that point on,] but he was heavily displeased when he came to Samaria ( 1 Kings 20:34-43 ). "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/1-kings-20.html. 2014.
Ahab’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh and his sentence 20:31-34
This section is similar to the one that recorded Saul’s failure to follow Yahweh’s command that also resulted in God cutting him off (1 Samuel 13:13-14). The parallels between Saul and Ahab are remarkable throughout this record of Ahab’s reign.
Archaeology has confirmed that other ancient Near Eastern kings were more brutal in war than Israel’s were (1 Kings 20:31). Sackcloth and ropes expressed remorse and servitude (1 Kings 20:31-32). [Note: See Gray, pp. 429-30.] Ben-Hadad’s envoys called their king Ahab’s "servant" (1 Kings 20:32) because that is what Ben-Hadad was willing to become if Ahab would have mercy on him. Ben-Hadad was not Ahab’s blood brother (1 Kings 20:32). Ahab was willing to regard him as such rather than as a servant if Ben-Hadad agreed to make a treaty and concessions to him. Ahab’s plan was contrary to God’s Law that called for the deaths of Israel’s enemies (Deuteronomy 20:10-15). Ahab welcomed Ben-Hadad into his chariot (1 Kings 20:33). This was an honor. The Aramean king was quick to make concessions in return for his life (1 Kings 20:34). Compare Saul’s refusal to execute Agag. The covenant the two men made involved the return of Israelite cities that Aram had previously taken and trade privileges for Israel with Damascus (1 Kings 20:34). Ahab figured that it would be better for him and Israel to make a treaty than to obey God’s Law (cf. Exodus 23:32). Perhaps the reason Ahab was so eager to make this treaty was that the Assyrian Empire was expanding toward Israel from the northeast.
What happened to the man who refused to strike the prophet (1 Kings 20:35-36) was exactly what would happen to Ahab and for the same reason, disobedience to the word of the Lord. Compare Samuel’s first sentence against Saul for his disobedience (1 Samuel 13). Again a lion was God’s agent of execution (cf. 1 Kings 13:24). The prophet’s parable recalls the one Nathan told David (2 Samuel 12:1-7). Ahab condemned himself by what he said. God would kill Ahab for not killing Ben-Hadad (1 Kings 22:37). He would also cause Israel, which Ahab headed and represented, to suffer defeat rather than the Arameans (1 Kings 20:42; cf. 1 Samuel 15:22-29). Ahab foolishly chose to follow his own plan instead of obeying the Lord. Obedience probably would have terminated the conflict with the Aramean army.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/1-kings-20.html. 2012.
And his servants said unto him,.... Being reduced to the utmost extremity; for if he attempted to go out of the city, he would fall into the hands of the Israelites, and there was no safety in it, the wall of it being fallen down; and it could not be thought he could be concealed long in the chamber where he was, wherefore his servants advised as follows:
behold, now, we have heard that the kings of the Israel are merciful kings; not only the best of them as David and Solomon, but even the worst of them, in comparison of Heathen princes, were kind and humane to those that fell into their hands, and became their captives:
let us, I pray thee; so said one in the name of the rest:
put sack cloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads; and so coming in such a mean and humble manner, and not with their armour on, they might the rather hope to have admittance; so, the Syracusans sent ambassadors to Athens, in filthy garments, with the hair of their heads and beards long, and all in slovenly habits, to move their pity r;
and go out to the king of Israel: and be humble supplicants to him:
peradventure he will save thy life; upon a petition to him from him; to which the king agreed, and sent it by them.
r Justin e Trogo, l. 4. c. 4.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-kings-20.html. 1999.
31 And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life. 32 So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother. 33 Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Benhadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. 34 And Benhadad said unto him, The cities, which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away. 35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of the LORD, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him. 36 Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him, and slew him. 37 Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him. 38 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face. 39 And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. 40 And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it. 41 And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets. 42 And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people. 43 And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.
Here is an account of what followed upon the victory which Israel obtained over the Syrians.
I. Ben-hadad's tame and mean submission. Even in his inner chamber he feared, and would, if he could, flee further, though none pursued. His servants, seeing him and themselves reduced to the last extremity, advised that they should surrender at discretion, and make themselves prisoners and petitioners to Ahab for their lives, 1 Kings 20:31; 1 Kings 20:31. The servants will put their lives in their hands, and venture first, and their master will act according as they speed. Their inducement to take this course is the great reputation the kings of Israel had for clemency above any of their neighbours: "We have heard that they are merciful kings, not oppressive to their subjects that are under their power" (as governments then went, that of Israel was one of the most easy and gentle), "and therefore not cruel to their enemies when they lie at their mercy." Perhaps they had this notion of the kings of Israel because they had heard that the God of Israel proclaimed his name gracious and merciful, and they concluded their kings would make their God their pattern. It was an honour to the kings of Israel to be thus represented, as indeed every Israelite is then dressed as becomes him when he puts on bowels of mercies. "They are merciful kings, therefore we may hope to find mercy upon our submission." This encouragement poor sinners have to repent and humble themselves before God. "Have we not heard that the God of Israel is a merciful God? Have we not found him so? Let us therefore rend our hearts and return to him." Joel 2:13. That is evangelical repentance which flows from an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ; there is forgiveness with him. Two things Ben-hadad's servants undertake to represent to Ahab:-- 1. Their master a penitent; for they girded sackcloth on their loins, as mourners, and put ropes on their heads, as condemned criminals going to execution, pretending to be sorry that they had invaded his country and disturbed his repose, and owning that they deserved to be hanged for it. Here they are ready to do penance for it, and throw themselves at the feet of him whom they had injured. Many pretend to repent of their wrong-doing, when it does not succeed, who, if they had prospered in it, would have justified it and gloried in it. 2. Their master a beggar, a beggar for his life: Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, "I pray thee, let me live,1 Kings 20:32; 1 Kings 20:32. Though I live a perpetual exile from my own country, and captive in this, yet, upon any terms, let me live." What a great change is here, (1.) In his condition! How has he fallen from the height of power and prosperity to the depths of disgrace and distress, and all the miseries of poverty and slavery! See the uncertainty of human affairs; such turns are they subject to that the spoke which was uppermost may soon come to be undermost. (2.) In his temper--in the beginning of the chapter hectoring, swearing, and threatening, and none more high in his demands, but here crouching and whining and none more low in his requests! How meanly does he beg hi life at the hand of him upon whom he had there been trampling! The most haughty in prosperity are commonly most abject in adversity: an even spirit will be the same in both conditions. See how God glorified himself when he looks upon proud men and abases them, and hides them in the dust together,Job 40:11-13.
II. Ahab's foolish acceptance of his submission, and the league he suddenly made with him upon it. He was proud to be thus courted by him whom he had feared, and enquired for him with great tenderness: Is he yet alive? He is my brother, brother-king, though not brother-Israelite: and Ahab valued himself more upon his royalty than on his religion, and others accordingly. "Is he thy brother, Ahab? Did he use thee like a brother when he sent thee that barbarous message? 1 Kings 20:5; 1 Kings 20:6. Would he have called thee brother if he had been the conqueror? Would he now have called himself thy servant if he had not been reduced to the utmost strait? Canst thou suffer thyself to be thus imposed upon by a forced and counterfeit submission?" This word brother they caught at (1 Kings 20:33; 1 Kings 20:33), and were thereby encouraged to go and fetch him to the king. He that calls him brother will let him live. Let poor penitents hear God, in his word, calling them children (Jeremiah 31:20), catch at it, echo to it, and call him Father. Ben-hadad, upon his submission, shall not only be honourably conveyed (he took him up into the chariot), but treated with as an ally (1 Kings 20:34; 1 Kings 20:34): he made a covenant with him, not consulting God's prophets, or the elders of the land, or himself, concerning what was fit to be insisted on, but, as if Ben-hadad had been conqueror, he shall make his own terms. He might now have demanded some of Ben-hadad's cities, when all of them lay at the mercy of his victorious army; but was content with the restitution of his own. He might now have demanded the stores, and treasures, and magazines of Damascus, to augment the wealth and strength of his own kingdom, but was content with a poor liberty, at his own expense, to build streets there, a point of honour and no advantage, or no more than what the kings of Syria had had in Samaria, though they had never had so much power as he had now to support the demand of it. With this covenant he sent him away, without so much as reproving him for his blasphemous reflections upon the God of Israel, for whose honour Ahab had no concern. Note, There are those on whom success is ill bestowed; they know not how to serve God, or their generation, or even their own true interests, with their prosperity. Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness.
III. The reproof given to Ahab for his clemency to Ben-hadad and his covenant with him. It was given him by a prophet, in the name of the Lord, the Jews say by Micaiah, and not unlikely, for Ahab complains of him (1 Kings 22:8; 1 Kings 22:8) that he used to prophesy evil concerning him. This prophet designed to reprove Ahab by a parable, that he might oblige him to condemn himself, as Nathan and the woman of Tekoa did David. To make his parable the more plausible, he finds it necessary to put himself into the posture of a wounded soldier. 1. With some difficulty he gets himself wounded, for he would not wound himself with his own hands. He commanded one of his brother prophets, his neighbour, or companion (for so the word signifies), to smite him, and this in God's name (1 Kings 20:35; 1 Kings 20:35), but finds him not so willing to give the blow as he is to receive it; he refused to smite him: others, he thought, were forward enough to smite prophets, they need not smite one another. We cannot but think it was from a good principle he declined it. "If it must be done, let another do it, not I; I cannot find it in my heart to strike my friend." Good men can much more easily receive a wrongful blow than give one; yet because he disobeyed an express command of God (which was so much the worse if he was himself a prophet), like that other disobedient prophet (1 Kings 13:24; 1 Kings 13:24), he was presently slain by a lion,1 Kings 20:36; 1 Kings 20:36. This was intended, not only to show, in general, how provoking disobedience is (Colossians 3:6), but to intimate to Ahab (who no doubt was told the story) that if a good prophet were thus punished for sparing his friend and God's, when God said, Smite, of much sorer punishment should a wicked king be thought worthy, who spared his enemy and God's, when God said, Smite. Shall mortal man pretend to be more just than God, more pure or more compassionate than his Maker? We must be merciful as he is merciful, and not otherwise. The next he met with made no difficulty of smiting him (Volentinon fit injuria--He that asks for an injury is not wronged by it) and did it so that he wounded him,1 Kings 20:37; 1 Kings 20:37. He fetched blood with the blow, probably in his face. 2. Wounded as he was, and disguised with ashes that he might not be known to be a prophet, he made his application to the king in a story wherein he charged himself with such a crime as the king was now guilty of in sparing Ben-hadad, and waited for the king's judgment upon it. The case in short is this--A prisoner taken in the battle was committed to his custody by a man (we may suppose one that had authority over him as his superior officer) with this charge, If he be missing, thy life shall be for his life,1 Kings 20:39; 1 Kings 20:39. The prisoner has made his escape through his carelessness. Can the chancery in the king's breast relieve him against his captain, who demands his life in lieu of the prisoner's? "By no means," says the king, "thou shouldst either not have undertaken the trust or been more careful and faithful to it; there is no remedy (Currat lex--Let the law take its course), thou hast forfeited thy bond, and execution must go out upon it: So shall thy doom be, thou thyself hast decided it." Now the prophet has what he would have, puts off his disguise, and is known by Ahab himself to be a prophet (1 Kings 20:41; 1 Kings 20:41) and plainly tells him, "Thou art the man. Is it my doom? No, it is thine; thou thyself hast decided it. Out of thy own mouth art thou judged. God, thy superior and commander-in-chief, delivered into thy hands one plainly marked for destruction both by his own pride and God's providence, and thou hast not carelessly lost him, but wittingly and willingly dismissed him, and so hast been false to thy trust, and lost the end of thy victory; expect therefore no other than that thy life shall go for his life, which thou hast spared" (and so it did, 1 Kings 22:35; 1 Kings 22:35), "and thy people for his people, whom likewise thou hast spared," and so they did afterwards, 2 Kings 10:32; 2 Kings 10:33. When their other sins brought them low, this came into the account. There is a time when keeping back the sword from blood is doing the work of the Lord deceitfully,Jeremiah 48:10. Foolish pity spoils the city. 3. We are told how Ahab resented this reproof. He went to his house heavy and displeased (1 Kings 20:43; 1 Kings 20:43), not truly penitent, or seeking to undo what he had done amiss, but enraged at the prophet, exasperated against God (as if he had been too severe in the sentence passed upon him), and yet vexed at himself, every way out of humour, notwithstanding his victory. He who by his providence had mortified the pride of one king, by his word cast a damp upon the triumphs of another. Be wise therefore, O you kings! and be instructed to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling,Psalms 2:10; Psalms 2:11.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/1-kings-20.html. 1706.
Ben-Hadad's Escape an Encouragement for Sinners
Delivered on Sunday Evening, October 11th, 1863, by the
Rev. C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"And his servants said unto him, behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life. So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, is he yet alive? he is my brother. Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, thy brother Ben-hadad. Then he said, go ye, bring him. Then Ben-hadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Ben-hadad said unto him, the cities, which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away." 1 Kings 20:31-34 .
ALTHOUGH THE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS of warfare were exceedingly rough and cruel in those primitive ages, yet it appears that the kings of Israel gained a name for being merciful. I do not find recorded in Scripture any particularly merciful acts of theirs, and I should conclude that the kings of other countries must have been very ferocious, if the kings of Israel were at all merciful. Ancient records and memorial slabs record tortures so horrible, that you could not listen if I were to describe them although they were the common barbarities with which Assyrian and Babylonian victors concluded their wars. It seems that the kings of the house of Israel did not go to the lengths of savage cruelty usual among their neighbors. Upon which we are led to remark, that where the true worship of God does not make men what they should be, yet it betters them in some respects. The kings of Israel were all idolaters, but yet the presence of a little salt, a few of the godly in the land, had an effect upon the state; and the situation of the little kingdom of Judah, close at their elbow, with its temple and its prophets, influenced the manners and customs of the people, so that "the kings of the house of Israel were merciful kings," and this not because they feared God themselves, but because there were others who did, and whose influence and example, perhaps, unconsciously, softened public sentiment, and mitigated the ruthless ferocity of war. Is this nothing! Is it not a high honor to the seven thousand who bowed not the knee to Baal, that in this respect they made Baal's worshippers bow to them? Little do we know how much of the apparent morality of this country is due to the real religion which we have in our land. There are thousands of men in London who would open their shops tonight, if it were not for the influence of those who fear the Lord; their shops are closed, not because they take any interest in the Christian's day of rest, but out of respect to custom. Sins, which now hide their heads under the veil of night, would stalk through our streets with barefaced impudence, if once Christianity were withdrawn. Bad as the customs of trade are, without the purifying power of the godly they would be infinitely worse. The whole fabric of our commerce, politics and war, is manifestly affected for the better by our religion. Let those, then, who do not feel its power, yet at least think well of it, from this fact that it is a blessing to our country; and while other nations have been rent with civil war, while revolution has followed revolution, and class has been set against class, the religion of Jesus Christ has made our land a happy land, and a land, after all, in which there is more generous benevolence towards the needy, and more mutual sympathy, than in any other kingdom or even in any republic beneath the sky. Thank God for true religion! Even if it does not convert a man, yet its presence in his neighborhood tends to sober him, and to keep him from running into so great an excess of riot. This, however, is but by-the-bye; I plunge now at once into the subject before me.
My soul to-night yearneth, as it did last Thursday night, to induce some timid, seeking soul, to make a venture of it, and to come boldly to Christ to-night. Last Thursday night, you remember, we spoke of Esther, and how she said, "I will go in unto the king, which is not according to the law, and if I perish, I perish." We tried to urge those of you who were then present to do the same. We reminded you that though it was contrary to law, yet it was not contrary to gospel, and we therefore bade you come, just as you were, into the presence of the Great King; promising, on his behalf, that he would stretch out the golden scepter to you. To-night our line of things is precisely the same. Our object is the same, and we pray that we may have a greater blessing than we did then.
There are three things in the text: first, mercy's report; secondly, misery's resolve; and thirdly, misery's reception.
I. First, then, MERCY'S REPORT.
Down there is a dark cellar; in an inner chamber, shut out from the light of day, with, perhaps, only a fire or a candle to light him we see the fugitive King. He who came up from Syria with a hundred and fifty thousand men at his feet, now returns with but a handful of men left. He had sworn in his audacity that he would take away Samaria by handfuls, that he would bring so many men that each one should require to take but a handful, and the whole city of Samaria should be cast to the winds. The king of Israel had simply replied, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." There sits Ben-hadad. He reminds me of Napoleon after the flight from Waterloo, sitting down by the fire in a peasant's cot, his boots and his grey coat covered with mire, and his face full of dark anxiety and gloomy fears a man of iron, but a man of iron rusted and worn by adversities. There sits Ben-hadad; but he is not like Napoleon, for his soul is cowed, and broken, and humbled, and subdued. He who bragged so loudly is now a pitiful spectacle of meanness and dismay. His servants whisper around the fallen king, and their most assuring word is a humbling one, "The kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings." This is a sweet note to poor Ben-hadad's ear. The boastful king, who never dreamed of mercy to others, is now glad to have half a chance of mercy for himself.
But I come to you to-night, not to whisper mercy. I come to you, who have defied God and have been his enemies, but who now are broken beneath his power, and my voice is no timid whisper made up of mingled hope and fear. As ambassador from the God of Israel. I proclaim the fullness of his mercy.
Thus runneth mercy's report. First, there is mercy. It is God's essential attribute, and he can never cease to be merciful. As long as he is God, mercy will be one trait in his divine character. A God unmerciful were not the God of revelation. There is mercy yet. He has already opened bags of mercy, and scattered the golden treasure lavishly among the forlorn beggars at his footstool; but there are bags untied yet, sealed up still with the red seal of the covenant; bags of mercy, I say, yet unused. You have not exhausted the lovingkindness of Jehovah. You have required much, you have pressed the exchequer of God's mercy to a great extent, but its coffers are deep as the sea, nay, deep as the gates of hell.
"Deep as your helpless miseries are,
And boundless as your sins."
Mercy is not dead; it liveth still yea, liveth in its ancient strength, and riches of glory. Mercy is not drained; it floweth evermore towards the sons of men. There is mercy; there is mercy yet.
My proclamation certifies to thee, O trembling heart, that this mercy is tender mercy. Thy bones are broken to-night, thy heart is wounded, thy spirits are dried up, and thou art ready to despair; but I tell thee that God has tender mercy for such as thou art. As I sat in the hospital, yesterday, and saw the many cases of maimed limbs and gushing wounds, I could but think how tender the nurses ought to be, and how downy should be the surgeon's finger as he set the broken bone or bound up the sore. Doubtless there are some persons who have iron hands and hard hearts, and so, while they are bone-setting or binding up wounds, they do it roughly, and cause the patient much pain. But, O sinner, therein is the tender mercy of our God set forth, which, like a day spring from on high, hath visited us; "a bruised reed will he not break, nor quench the smoking flax." He crowneth us with lovingkindnesses, and with tender mercies; he bindeth up the broken in heart, and healeth all their wounds. Like as a mother comforteth her children, even so doth the Lord comfort his people, and like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. My Lord is as gracious in the manner of his mercy as in the matter of it. Glory be to his name! O sinner, come to the gentle Jesus and live.
There is great mercy. There is nothing little in my God; his mercy is like himself it is infinite. You cannot measure it. You may mount in the balloon of your imagination, but you cannot reach to the firmament of his mercy. "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are his thoughts above your thoughts, and his ways above your ways." Your sin is of great measure, but there is no measure to his grace. His mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favors and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God. As John Bunyan well says "It must be great mercy or no mercy, for little mercy will never serve my turn." Dost thou feel that, burdened conscience, dost thou feel that? In God there is great mercy for the harlot, for the drunkard, for the thief, for the whoremongrer, for the adulterer, and such like. Here is great mercy, which, like a great flood bursting upwards, shall cover the highest mountains of your sins. The bath of blood is opened for crimson stains; the physician died to heal the foulest disease, and he lives as intercessor, to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him.
Hear me again, O troubled conscience, the mercy of my Lord is rich mercy. Some things are great, but have little efficacy in them, like wine mingled with water, they cannot revive the fainting; but every drop of the mercy of my God is worth a heaven. Let but a drop of this mercy fall upon a soul, and it shall be enough to save it. It is rich, unutterably rich mercy. When you get this mercy it will be a cordial to your drooping spirits; it shall be a golden ointment to your bleeding wounds; it shall be a heavenly bandage to your broken bones; it shall be a royal chariot for your weary feet; it shall be a bosom of love for your trembling heart. It is rich mercy. I cannot tell you what the mercy of God would not do; nor can I tell you all that it would do. I cannot tell you what it would not do, for I know of no good thing which it would refuse. I cannot tell you all it would do for the catalogue is too long, and Watts did not exaggerate, when he said
"But O! Eternity's too short
To utter half its praise."
Mercy, rich mercy! The Lord does not give away halfpence in the streets; he does not open his door and throw out bones half-picked, and broken crusts, and dry, stale meat; but he opens the door, and bids his heralds cry, "My oxen and my fatlings are killed, come ye to the supper! "He does not distribute pebble-stones, but diamonds and gems of priceless cost; bought, not with corruptible things as with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus. Nay, so rich is this mercy, that heaven had only one Koh-i-noor, one "mountain of light," and God gave that; that diamond, that glittering diamond his Only-Begotten Son that it might sparkle with light upon the bosom of forgiven sinners. O the depths of the mercy and goodness of the Lord!
But our proclamation is not concluded yet; in fact we have but begun. There is in God, according to the express word of Scripture, manifold mercy. What a fine word that is! Do you understand it? Many-fold mercy! Here I open one fold of it, and I find remission for transgressions past; I open another, and I find pardon for sins to come. I open the next, and I find constraining mercy to lead me into the paths of righteousness. Nay, I find that the folds are more than I can count; I cannot possibly reckon up the innumerable mercies which are wrapped up one within another. As John Bunyan says, all the flowers in God's garden are double; there is no single mercy; nay, they are not only double flowers, but they are manifold flowers. There are many flowers upon one stalk, and many flowers in one flower. You shall think you have but one mercy, but you shall find it to be a whole flock of mercies. Our beloved is unto us a bundle of myrrh, a cluster of camphor. When you lay hold upon one golden link of the chain of grace, you pull, pull, pull, but lo! as long as your hand can draw there are fresh "linked sweetnesses" of love still to come. Manifold mercies! Like the drops of a lustre, which reflect a rainbow of colors when the sun is glittering upon them, and each one, when turned in different ways, from its prismatic form shows all the varieties of color, so the mercy of God is one and yet many, the same yet ever changing, a combination of all the beauties of love blended harmoniously together. You have only to look at mercy in that light, and that light, and that light, to see how rich, how manifold it is. Poor sinner, does not this talk suit you? Why, if there are many folds, there is a fold for you; and if your case seems to be an extraordinary one, and you have manifold sins, and manifold sorrows, here are manifold mercies to suit you. Perhaps your mercy is in the last fold, and the devil wants to prevent its being opened, but God never had a mercy yet which he did not, sooner or later, give to the one for whom he had predestinated it; and he will give mercy yet to you.
Notice further, that as it is manifold mercy, so it is abounding mercy. The farther we go down the stream of mercy the deeper it becomes, and the broader it grows. God's mercy, instead of being exhausted by all he has given away, is still as fresh as ever. I say, soul, God has given away enough mercy to save millions of spirits who are now in heaven, and yet he has as much mercy now as when he began. His giving doth by no means impoverish him. I suppose that the shining of the sun, though the fact cannot be seen by us, does diminish the store of light in that great luminary, but it is not so with the shining of God's mercy. I suppose that when I breathe the air, though none can tell it, there is so much less of good oxygen for others to breathe; but when I breathe God's mercy, there is just as much left as there was before. If you take a cupful of water out of the ocean, you cannot see the difference, but there certainly is that cupful less in the sea; but when you take what mercy you will out of this divine seaful, this shoreless oceanful of mercy, there is just as much left as when you first came. You see then, O sinner, that the Lord hath super-abounding mercy, and therefore, if your sin has gone on multiplying, his mercy has done the same. The mathematician will tell you that numbers, in the process of multiplication, will mount to figures so vast, that only the calculating machine can give what the number will be, and even then, when the figures stand in a long row, man may look at them, but he will have no idea of what the figures mean. But if you had a calculating-machine, and all the calculating-machines that ever were, put together, you could not calculate the extent of the super-abounding mercy of God in Christ Jesus, enough for every seeking soul for ever.
Poor, trembling soul, let the silver trumpet ring this good news in thine ears that this is mercy which will never leave thee. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." If you get mercy to-night, you have obtained mercy for ever. If mercy be thy friend this evening, mercy will be with thee in temptation to keep thee from yielding; with thee in thy troubles, to prevent thee from sinking under them; mercy will be with thee living, to be the light and life of thy countenance; and mercy will be with thee dying, to be the joy of thy soul in thy last moments. "He that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about." You shall have ranks and files of mercies, before and behind, and on every side of you. You shall have the mercy which endureth for ever. I cannot think what Arminians make of that Psalm "His mercy endureth for ever." They think that we can exhaust God's mercy, that a child of God once saved can yet lose the mercy of God by his sin. Beloved, let us never indulge such a thought; for the God who began to be merciful to us will be merciful to us even unto the end, and that end shall be without end.
Sinner, hast thou heard this proclamation? It is not yet finished. Let me tell thee that the mercy of God flows freely. It wants no money and no price from thee, no fitness of frames and feelings, no preparation of good works or penitence. Free as the brook which leaps from the mountain-side, at which every weary traveler may drink, so free is the mercy of God. Free as the sun that shineth, and gilds the mountain's brow, and makes glad the valleys without fee or reward, so free is the mercy of God to every needy sinner. Free as the air which belts the earth and penetrates the peasant's cottage as well as the royal palace without purchase or premium, so free is the mercy of God in Christ. It tarrieth not for thee; it cometh to thee as thou art. It waylayeth thee in love; it meeteth thee in tenderness. Ask not how thou shalt get it. Thou needest not climb to heaven, nor descend to hell for it; the word is nigh thee; on thy lip, and in thy heart; if thou believest on the Lord Jesus with thy heart, and with thy mouth makest confession of him, thou shalt be saved. If, as guilty, thou wilt accept the great atonement, and be washed therein, rejoice O heaven, and sing O earth, for the sinner is saved; saved through abounding mercy. It is mercy fresh and strong to-night; mercy ready for thee while that clock is ticking; mercy which has followed thee to this thy eleventh hour, and waiteth for thee on the borders of the grave. It is mercy which will not easily take a denial of thee, but pleads with thee now to-night. Sinner, may the Spirit of God come forth with that energy which raised Jesus from the dead, and make thee say, "Lord, I would be saved by thy mercy; God be merciful to me a sinner."
This is mercy's report. O that my lips could tell it better! God open your ears to hear it and to believe it. Pause a moment that those in whom the Holy Ghost is working may breathe a silent prayer, and then let us advance to the second head.
II. MISERY'S RESOLVE.
You will come with me into that inner chamber, and look at Ben-hadad for a moment. Where art thou now, Ben-hadad? Where are thy legions now? Where now the flaunting banners the proud glory of Syria? Thou art broken in pieces broken as a ship when the rough north wind hath cast aside her mast, and shattered all her sails. Where art thou now? "Mock not at my misery:" the king replies, "I have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful if I sit here I shall be slain by some fierce trooper I will bestir myself; something must be done; I will get me unto the king of Israel." Note then, first, that Ben-hadad saw the necessity of direct and immediate action. Misery, where art thou? In yonder sinner hast thou taken up thy lodging-place? I would fain do thee service, and therefore will I speak. Sinner, if thou sit still, thou must die. Thou art like the prodigal; thy money is spent; thou hast wasted thy substance in riotous living; thou hast fed the swine, and thou hast tried to feed on their husks, but thou canst not fill thy belly therewith. If thou stayest amongst those swine-troughs, thou wilt die thou wilt perish of hunger; even now thy gaunt limbs stare at thee, and thy bare bones rebuke thee. Man, it is time for thee to say, "I will arise; I will arise." O my hearers, I fear that a deadly sleep has fallen upon some of you. You are in sin, and you know it, but you take no action about it. The trembling of the jailer when he said, "What must I do to be saved?" has not seized hold on you. You are in the Enchanted Ground, and, like Heedless and Too-bold, you are asleep upon the seats of the arbour, and when shaken in your slumber, you dreamily mutter, "A little more sleep; a little more slumber; a little more folding of the hands." Oh, if you knew how near you are to the gates of death! I feel with trembling that my speech is prophetic to some one here. If thou knewest, O immortal soul, how soon the curtain shall be drawn; how in a moment thou shalt see the now-invisible God face to face, thou wouldst shake like an aspen leaf in thy seat to-night. As the Lord my God liveth, there is but a step betwixt thee and death. "Set thine house in order; for thou must die, and not live." May the Holy Ghost bestir you to take direct action! immediate action!! There is no time to waste; the sun has gone down, and it may never rise on you again. The harvest is past and the summer is ended, and you are not saved. For you there will be no beaming spring, no blooming summer of next year; but the cold sod shall cover you, and the daisy shall bloom above your grave. "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel." Thus saith the Lord unto you: "Because I will do this, consider your ways."
"Haste, traveler, haste; the night comes on,
And many a shining hour is gone;
The storm is gathering in the west,
And thou far off from home and rest:
Haste, traveler, haste."
Then linger not in all the plain,
Flee for thy life, the mountain gain;
Look not behind, make no delay,
O speed thee speed thee on thy way:
Haste, traveler, haste.
Poor, lost benighted soul, art thou
Willing to find salvation now?
There yet is hope, hear mercy's call,
Truth, life, light, way, in Christ is all:
Haste to him, haste.
If thou art what I take thee to be to-night one sent here that God may save thee thou wilt to-night begin to cry unto God, and wilt tonight seek him who looseth the seven stars, and turneth the shadow of death into the mourning. Do thou, soul, to-night, lay hold upon the hem of Jesus' garment, and make a covenant with him that thou mayst be saved.
Come again with me down into that dreary vault, and we will see Ben-hadad again. He is at his toilet. Let us not intrude upon the king at his toilet. Sure he is putting on his imperial purple, and placing his crown upon his head, is he not? Ah! a strange dressing-room this, and a singular toilet. He hath a rope, such a rope as men hang dogs withal, and he puts it upon his neck; and as for his loins, the dainty garments of Egyptian fine linen are all laid aside, and he wraps himself about with a piece of an old sack, and then he scatters ashes upon himself. Fit toilet for a vanquished supplicant! Ah, sinner, sinner, there is wisdom here. If thou wouldst come before God in Christ, betake thee to thy toilet; not to trim thyself, not to make thyself dainty and fair; not to perfume thyself with choice essences of self-righteousness; not to gird thyself with sumptuous apparel. No, no. In your case the words of Isaiah have a spiritual meaning "In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers. * * The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils. And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty." The finery is all gone not a rag left not an ornament spared. Sinner, it is so with thee! Thy proper array is the sackcloth of repentance and the rope of acknowledgment that thou deservest to die. Arouse thee, man, I say, and let this be the first act thou doest: confess that thou art vile. Come! Off with that fine garment; I know you have been to Church twice every Sabbath-day for the last few years, but away with that, away with that; trust not to that. I know that you were sprinkled in your infancy, and have been confirmed since; but trust not in these observances, for all such confidence shall be but as a phantom and a dream of the night. I know that you have attended this Tabernacle ever since it was built, and listened to our ministry for years; but boast not of that; away with that as a ground of trust; pull off that garment. You have never failed in business; you have brought up your children well; you never swear; you were never a drunkard; midnight orgies never saw you mixed up in them; this is well, but I pray thee, put not on this as thy proper dress: the proper dress for a sinner to go to Christ in, is sackcloth and the rope. "Well," says one, "I never will acknowledge that I deserve to be damned!" Then you never will be saved. "Well," says another, "I never will take the language of a great sinner upon my lips." Then you shall never be saved; for unless you are willing to confess that God may justly damn you, God will never save you; but if you feel in your heart to-night, that if he sends your soul to hell, his righteous law approves it well; if you wonder how it is that you are not in the pit, and marvel why such mercy should have been shown to you, come, brother, come; come as you are, for you wear the true court-dress of a sinner. When a beggar goes out to beg at the door, should he put on a new black coat, and a clean white cravat, and kid gloves. Nay, verily, let him clothe himself in tatters the more rents he has the better for tatters are the livery of a beggar, and rags are the court-dress of a mendicant. So, come in your sins; come in your doubts; come in your hardness of heart; come in your impenitence; come in your deadness; come in your lethargy; come as you are foul, vile, filthy, waiting for no amendment, but with a rope upon your neck, and a garment of sackcloth about your loins; come now, come now; God help you to come.
"Come, needy and guilty;
Come, loathsome and bare;
Though leprous and filthy;
Come just as you are."
We will follow Ben-hadad, and hear the king at his prayers. He has come before the king of Israel, and he has a petition to offer. What will it be? Bring the big book; turn to the collect for Quinquagesima Sunday will not that suit him? Will not our beautiful liturgy serve his turn? No, no; living souls must have living words, and their own words too, for I cannot adopt another man's petition, they must be my own children, sprung from my own loins. The dead soul may parrot out a printed prayer, but the living soul pants to be rid of such tag-rags such bondage. The living spirit can no more be content with a mere form of prayer, than the blazing, flaming comet could be chained, belted, and held fast in prison. It must have words of its own. Well, but it will be a very fine extemporary prayer, will it not five-and-twenty minutes' long, an orthodox, Nonconformist supplication? Oh, dear no! These long, dry, prosy prayers suit dead souls, but living souls want something more burning, more full of fire. When they come before the Lord, they cannot pray in that fashion, but this is the way "Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live." Ah! that is the sinner's prayer "Thy servant saith, I pray thee, let me live." Why, there is not one awakened person here who cannot pray such a prayer as that! That suits the clown in his roughness, and it may suit, and must suit the peer in his politeness. However dull the intellect this prayer can be understood; and however high the perceptions, this prayer can reach our desires to the full extent "Thy servant saith, I pray thee, let me live." John, John, pray in this form "Thy servant John saith, I pray thee, let me live." Jane, put it so "Thy servant Jane saith, I pray thee, let me live." Ah! that is the sort of prayer "God be merciful to me a sinner." If a man should meet you in the street as you walked along and should say, "If you please, sir, wait a minute," and should then draw out of his pocket a long roll, and proceed to read to you a fine, well-written oration; well, however beautifully it might be put together, he might have a quotation from the "Rambler," or sentences like those of the flowing Addison, but you would say, "Ay, ay, but I have not time to listen to that, sir." But suppose that as you were going along, a man came to you and said, "Sir, I am starving; I pray you for God's sake help me" then you know what you are at, and if your hand does not go into your purse very soon, it is only because you may suspect him of being an impostor but you know that this is the kind of language which moves the human heart? How does your child come to you when he wants anything? Does he open a big book, and begin reading, "My dear, esteemed, and venerated parent in the effulgence of thy parental beneficence?" Nothing of the kind. He says "Father, my clothes are worn out, please buy me a new coat," or else he says "I am hungry, let me have something to eat." That is the way to pray, and there is no prayer which God accepts but that kind of prayer right straight from the heart, and right straight to God's heart. We miss the mark when we go about to gather gaudy words. What! gaudy words on the lips of a poor sinner! Fine phrases from a rebel! There is more true eloquence in "God be merciful to me a sinner," than in all the books of devotion which bishops, and archbishops, and divines ever compiled. "Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live." I feel inclined to stop and ask you to bow your heads in your pews, and pray that prayer "O God, thy servant saith, I pray thee, let me live, O cut me not down as a cumberer of the ground, but let me live; I am dead in trespasses and sins, quicken me, O Lord, and let me live; and when thou comest to slay the wicked on the earth, I pray thee, let me live; and when thou shalt destroy the ungodly, and sweep them with the besom of destruction into the pit that is bottomless, I pray thee, let me live." You see there is not a word of merit; there is nothing about what man has done; Ben-hadad only calls himself a servant. "Make me as one of thy hired servants." Thy servant saith, I pray thee, let me live." He does not ask for honor, or wealth, or station.
"Wealth and honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy,
Give me Christ, or else I die."
Christ, Christ, Christ; give me Christ! "Thy servant saith, I pray thee, let me live."
Well now, we have gone as far as we ought to do, I suppose, in intruding on the king's privacy, but I wish he would let me look in his right hand. I wonder what that is which he carries there? He has doubtless there some warrant for his prayer, some ground for expecting that he will find grace in the sight of his enemy. Let us open his hand. What is it? Why, I can hardly see it, it is so little. Let us bring it to the light and look at it. Yes, I see it, it is only a little "peradventure." It says "Peradventure he may save thy life." That is all a little "peradventure," and yet, with nothing but this to carry in his hands, he ventured to go, with the rope upon his neck, to the king of Israel. Sinner, I will give thee something more than that to go with. I should not like to go into the Bank of England with only a peradventure in my hand, with a note saying, that peradventure the cashier would give me ten pounds. I am afraid, I am afraid that my peradventure would not be good for much. But I should not mind going there with a promissory note signed with a good name. Sinner, here is a promise for thee. Here is one. "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord" there is the signature "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool, though they be red like crimson, they shall be whiter than snow." That is better then "peradventure," is it not? Here is another "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's dear Son, cleanseth us from all sin." Is not that better than "peradventure?" Here is another "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men." Surely that is better than "peradventure." Here is another "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst, come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Is not that better than "peradventure?" Go then, soul, go to the King, and you shall meet with a gracious reception.
III. The third head is MISERY'S RECEPTION.
We have been with Ben-hadad in the vault, and now we will go with him to the palace. He marches along, doleful and dolorous all the way, till he gets into the presence of the king. His servants, who are round about him, are all straining their ears to catch a word from the king, and the first word they get is a kind enquiry "Is he yet alive?" Ah! there was something in that; and so if you are coming to the king, my Lord begins to say "What, sinner, are you yet alive? Why, that is the wretch who thought he would blow his brains out, is he yet alive? Why, that is the sinner who ran his body into such an excess of sin that he well-nigh killed himself; is he yet alive? What, that sinner who for years never had a good thought, is there a tear in his eye to-night? Does he begin to live? Is he yet alive? That man who has heard sermon after sermon, and never felt under one, does he begin to feel to-night? Is he yet alive? What, that man who despised a mother's prayers, and rejected a father's intercessions; the man who has been at sea, and shipwreck has not softened him; who has had the yellow fever in the West Indies, and that has not brought him down what, does he begin to feel to-night? Is there some motion of the Spirit in him? Are there some yearnings after God? Is he yet alive?" Sec how kind is the enquiry. My Master seems to look out of my eyes to-night, and as he weeps over you he cries "How can I give thee up, Ephraim? How can I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I set thee as Admah? How shall I make thee as Zeboim? My bowels are moved, my repentings are kindled together; I will not destroy him, for I am God, and not man."
The next word of the king of Israel is suggestive, "He is my brother." I think I see the gleam of pleasure which went over the poor courtiers faces as they heard it. If the king had said some hard word, they might have heard it with grief, but when he said "He is my brother," they whispered to one another "My brother? My brother Ben-hadad? Why, that vile Ben-hadad had threatened this king with all sorts of mischief. He deserved nothing but death in return." When the Israelitish king was in great necessities, Ben-hadad sent to demand of him his wife, and his children, and all that he had, and when the king volunteered to acknowledge that Ben-hadad was his sovereign lord, and that they were his, Ben-hadad ordered him to send immediately the best of his wives, and the goodliest of his children, and when the King would not do that, Ben-hadad said "The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me." Hear the boaster, how dare he use such insulting language to the king of Israel? And yet here is this king of Israel now saving "He is my brother!" What, brother to such a scoundrel, such a braggart, such a tyrant, such a thief, such a rapacious robber, who would rake the whole world and spoil a man's house, and rob his bed brother to him? Yes, says Ahab, "He is my brother." Well, I do not admire that in the king of Israel, but I do admire it in my Lord Jesus, that he should turn round to a black sinner, and say, "He is my brother; I his elder brother am; he is a child of God, accented in the Beloved; he is heir of God, and joint heir with me of all things." Well, trembling, quickened sinner, what do you think of this, that Jesus Christ is your brother? Have you no love towards him? Why surely if thou art a convinced and awakened sinner, the thought of thine adoption into the Lord's family, of thy being the brother of Christ, will make the tears roll down thy cheeks, and thou wilt say, "How could I have offended against such a Lord? Lord, let me live for my brother's sake."
The next thing the king of Israel did was to take Ben-hadad up into his chariot. Ahab lets his bragging adversary ride with him in his carriage. And Jesus will take you up into his Church, nay, into his heart, into the chariot of his grace, and you shall ride with him even through the streets of heaven, amidst universal acclamations.
He did one thing more, he made a covenant with him. God makes a covenant with sinners in the person of Christ. He gave Him to be a covenant for the people, a leader and commander to the people, and those hearts who are led by grace to accept of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, know that this is the result of a covenant made before the world began by God with elect sinners in the person of Christ Jesus. O sinner, such is the infinite mercy of God, that the very thought of it should make thee weep. I have known the time when I thought God would never have mercy on me, and yet the thought of his love to other people would bring the tears to my eyes. I could not help saying once, I remember, that I would love God even if he damned me, because he was so gracious to others. Something of that emotion ought to be in your soul, and if there be, then methinks, it must be a work of grace. If thou beginnest to be in love with the mercy of God, it is because the mercy of God is in love with thee. O poor soul, mercy is to be had for the asking. It is to be had on no terms and no conditions except these "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved." Trust Jesus; trust Jesus just as you are for everything, and you are saved; and we will meet again in that land where they wear no sackcloth on their loins, nor ropes upon their necks, but where their heads are crowned with immortal honor, and their bodies are robed in immortality. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Look to him, all ye ends of the earth, look to him and live. The Lord enable you to do so, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/1-kings-20.html. 2011.
The days were very dark in Israel. Not only rebellion. And rebellion, always serious, was peculiarly so in Israel, for there it was insubordination in a direct manner against not only God's providence, but God's government. That government, as no other, was the direct action through the family that God Himself had chosen to govern His people, and therefore the very fact of their being the people of God made their insubordination to be so much the more grievous. For there cannot be a more false maxim than to bring in the question of whether people are God's children to apply it to present circumstances in order to mitigate the judgment of any evil thing that is done by them. In fact, the very thought is a pollution, and shows that souls must have departed from God, whenever the fact of the grace of God towards any person could be used in order to mitigate the gravity of their guilt against God. It is evident that if sin be always sin, the aggravation of the sin is the favour that God has shown the person that is guilty of it, and the nearer the relationship of the person that is guilty the greater the sin. Hence, even in Israel, God did not require the same sacrifice from one of the common people that He did from the ruler, nor did He look for that from a ruler which He did from the congregation as a whole; and the high priest, although he was only one man the high priest's guilt as being that of (in early days at any rate) the representative of Jehovah on the earth in Israel as king, became Israel's guilt. The high priest's sin had precisely this same effect, that is, it damaged the communion of the whole people, just as the whole people's guilt would have interfered with, or affected, him. But now we see the very darkness and evil of the people of God for here we have to do not with a family, not with His children in the true and Christian sense of the word; but we have to do with a people under the government of Jehovah in having now set up, not the fullest form of apostasy from God, but that which was verging towards it the first great departure from God, religiously as well as politically.
In the setting up of the calves of gold founded upon antiquity, no doubt, but an ancient sin having gone back as men will, not to ancient purity, but to ancient sin, so it was a divided allegiance, nominally to Jehovah. They had not yet cast Him off entirely, but really there was the worship of the golden calves. But dark as this day was, it only furnished the occasion for God to cause a new light to shine the light of prophecy. It always gives a grand testimony for God, and if that light be always alight, when would it shine most? When the darkness was greatest. So then we find it coming out now in a very conspicuous manner, even in a richer and fuller form, as we know it afterwards did when not merely the ten tribes of Judah were departing from God. Then we have the grand burst of prophecy in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and all the rest, not to speak of the Minor Prophets. But here we have a peculiar form prophecy not merely in word but in deed the blending of miracle. For these are miraculous signs, as well as wonders. Indeed, this is a very common thing in the miracles that God causes to be done by His servants, that is, even what was done teaches. The facts speak out the mind of God, and so it was in the case of Elijah. He is introduced most abruptly. The occasion required it. It was high time for God to interfere. There is no preparation of the way. It was a question of God, and God accordingly works by His servant.
But this remarkable planting of prophecy on miracle is found, not in Judah, but in Israel. The reason is manifest. Judah maintained still, however guiltily, the word of the Lord. Israel had virtually cast it off. Accordingly, therefore, having sunk into the place of the faithless they would have signs offered to them, as the apostle Paul shows that miracles are for the unbelieving. Prophecy, in the Christian sense of the word, no doubt as such when compared and contrasted with miracles prophecy is for the church. Thus you see we find that the double character remarkably suits the case. On the one hand it was Israel, and, consequently, there is prophecy; on the other hand it was Israel faithless or unbelieving, and consequently there were miracles, that is, there were signs to unbelievers at the same time that there was prophecy planted with them. So that the perfect wisdom and harmony of the dealings of God with the grand principles of truth that are found throughout the word of God, I think, must be apparent to any person who will consider what has been just brought before him.
Elijah, then, gives to Ahab a most solemn warning of the first great miracle which was itself a prophecy. He says, "There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." He does not say merely, "According to Jehovah's word." Had it been simply according to Jehovah's word it would have been simply a prophecy; but "according to my word" made it miraculous as well as prophetical. He was in the secret of Jehovah; he was an announcer of Jehovah's mind, but more than that, he was the executor of Jehovah's purpose; that is, there was prophecy in deed as well as in word, and this we have seen to be most suitable to the circumstance of the case.
The word of Jehovah, then, bids him flee. He has been bold in telling the king the guilty king. But now that his testimony has been rendered, and that the fearful calamity that the restraint of dew or rain for years must be particularly in the east that this was about to fall upon the people and to be connected indeed in a measure with the prophetic, and not merely with God, would have at once exposed him to the resentment of a wicked people and their king. God therefore bids His servant for it must not be a mere resource, still less a question of timidity, but according to the word of Jehovah to flee and hide himself by the brook Cherith. Yet even in this hiding-place he brings out the illustrious power of God, and His care for His servant, for God had many ways of watching over him. He chose one that suited His own glory. He says, "I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there" birds which, as we all know, are remarkable for their voracity. These were the birds that were ordered to feed the prophet. "So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord, for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening."
Undoubtedly, it was a solemn sign to Israel when it came to be known by them that is, that the unclean should be rather the instruments of the action of God, the medium of caring for His prophet. It was, I say, a witness to them that they were even below what God had commanded to feed His prophet. It was not to be some particular person. Yet at this very time we know that there was one that God employed. But no, God would prove before all Israel how little His sympathies were with the people how completely He was independent of all such action. He would care for His prophet Himself, and in a way suitable to His own glory. So after a season the brook dries up, but not before God had another purpose in hand. He sends him now to a place outside the land, to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon. And how important this is, our Lord Himself teaches us, for in Luke 4:1-44 the Saviour particularly selects this fact, as well as another that will come before us in the Second Book of Kings, as the witness of grace to the Gentile when the Jew had accounted himself unworthy of the government of Jehovah. Grace must work somewhere or other if the chosen people cast it out from them and will have none of it. God will not permit that brook to dry up, for the waters shall only flow in a fuller volume for the refreshment of weary souls elsewhere. And thus it is that God is always above the evil of man, and that the deeper the evil, God's goodness only shines the more.
So the widow of Zarephath, or Sarepta, as it is called in the New Testament, becomes the favoured one. She is met in great desolation. She is reduced to the lowest state. The prophet makes no small demands upon her pity, he puts her faith thoroughly to the test, and says what, if he had not been a prophet, and if it had not been a trial of faith, would have been a most cruel and selfish word, for with what face could a man, as a man, have asked her out of her little her last meal to provide first for him and then for herself and her son? But this was exactly the trial of it. God, when He gives a trial of faith, does not pare it down so as to spoil the very force of His blessing; but contrariwise. The greater the faith the more He tries, and if any one makes up his mind for slighting the practical cross in this world the sense of what it is to have the dying of the Lord Jesus that man will be tried in that very way. So this poor woman. She was in circumstances next door to death, and it is evident that God was far from giving her by the prophet, as He could easily have done, a barrel of meal to encourage her and the cruse to begin marvelously supplying oil. This would have spoiled the whole teaching of the Lord. Not so. Everything adds to the difficulty. This stranger-prophet that she never saw, never heard of before, is entirely unnoticed, and indeed, I think, we are warranted rather to gather that it was her first sight, and it may be, the first sound even of the prophet Elijah.
But still there is that, as in the word of God, so also in the prophet of God in a man of God that gives confidence where there is faith. Very likely it will shock and provoke the flesh; very likely it will give ground for unbelief there, for you will find this to be most true that the very same things which are a support to faith are the stumbling-block to unbelief; but however that may be, God in no wise softened the trial, but brought it out to her in all its apparent harshness and difficulty. But He strengthens the heart to meet the trial, and we must never leave out this, which does not appear, and it is one of the beautiful features of the Old Testament.
Here we get the facts. The New Testament shows us the key that is behind. The New Testament lets us see every now and then, as, for instance, in this very case. There was the electing grace of God that wrought in this widow just as in the case of Naaman the Syrian. There were many widows in Israel; God chose this one outside Israel. There were many lepers; it was not there that the grace of God was running, but it was towards the Syrian towards the great captain of their great enemy, for Syria was, at this time, perhaps their greatest foe. But if grace works God will prove that it is grace. He will show that there is no ground for acceptancy which indeed would deprive it of its character of grace if there was any ground to look for it. Well then, the widow acts upon the word of the prophet, and not without a solemn word which he received. "For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days."
But there was a greater trial still, for all this was either the sustenance of the prophet or the sustenance of those who were dying, as it were, from the famine, along with the prophet. But now comes another thing death. And it is evident that there are no discharges for man in that war. There a man is utterly foiled. There, at least, he must feel the vanity of his pretensions. And so it came to pass that God would give a witness of that. It was manifestly above man, for soon the only son of the widow fell sick and died; and this searches the woman's conscience, and she thinks of her sins and she spreads it out before the prophet the lamentable, irreparable loss, as she supposed, of her son. But he asked for the dead body and he cries to Jehovah, and he stretches himself upon the child three times a most unmeaning thing without the Lord. But the Lord would give the sign of interest, of tender interest, and the use of means even to any other, but not so with Him. We know still that He is pleased to use according to His own power, and I must make a little remark upon this.
There is a common idea that prevails, even among Christians, that miracles mean the setting aside of the natural laws of God. They mean nothing of the sort. The natural laws of God the laws that He has been pleased to stamp upon creation are not altered by a miracle. They go on all the same. Men are brought into the world; men die. There is not an alteration of that. That goes on. What a miracle is, is not the reversal of what are called these natural laws, but the introduction of the power of God to withdraw from the operation of them in a particular case. The laws remain precisely the same as before. The laws are not altered, but an individual is withdrawn from the operation of those laws. That is another thing altogether, and this is the true and only true application of the thought. This alone is the truth as to a miracle. So in this present case there was no question at all about setting aside the ordinary operation of death. God acted according to His own sovereign will, but the same sovereign will that orders the creation and deals with each soul in it was pleased to withdraw a particular person for His own glory. This does not interfere, I repeat, with the ordinary course of nature, except in that one particular case or those cases where God has been pleased to do it. And in this instance Jehovah heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived, and Elijah takes him and gives him to his mother, who at once owns the God of Israel.
In the next chapter (1 Kings 18:1-46), however, we have Elijah called to show himself to Ahab, and now comes the great testimony to the guilt of the people. The restraint of all that would refresh the earth from the heavens had passed over the people a most solemn sign, for it was not merely water turned into blood, or various blows which fell upon the earth, but the very heavens were withdrawn from all the kindness of which they are the medium from all the refreshment that God is pleased to give this earth. This was a far more solemn thing than anything that had been done in previous days, even with a stranger-people with an enemy. But now the time was come for God to terminate this chastisement, and Elijah comes to show himself to the king.
"And there was a sore famine in Samaria, and Ahab called Obadiah which was the governor of his house" who, singular to say, "feared Jehovah" feared Him "greatly." So wondrous are the ways of the Lord, and so little are we prepared; for the last place in this world where we would have looked for a servant of the Lord would have been the house of Ahab. Yet so it was. Do we not well to enlarge our thoughts? We should take in the wondrous ways of God's wisdom, as well as of His goodness. God had a purpose there, for this comes out. "It was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of Jehovah, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water." And why I make the remark, beloved friends, is this, that as there was a failure of Elijah, it is apt to be our failure. We are constantly in danger of forgetting what is not before our eyes. We are in danger of failing to identify ourselves with that which God is doing outside of what, I have no doubt, is the more honourable path; for it was a poor place for a servant of Jehovah to be in the house of Ahab, though it was a great honour, for God gave him to feed these prophets by fifty in a cave even in the face of Jezebel.
But Ahab now says to Obadiah, "Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks." This gives occasion to Obadiah's meeting Elijah. Elijah bids him go and tell the king that he was there. Obadiah declined. "What have I sinned?" said he, for indeed it troubled him to appear to disobey a prophet "What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab to slay me? As Jehovah thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee." We can understand therefore why Elijah was fed by ravens. "And when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not. And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of Jehovah shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I, thy servant, fear Jehovah from my youth." And so he tells of what he had done to the prophets. Elijah, however, says: "As Jehovah liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself unto him today."
So Obadiah, with this pledge of the, prophet, goes and tells his master; and Ahab meets Elijah. He meets him as wicked men do. He throws the blame of all the trouble not upon the sinner, but upon the denouncer of the sin; not upon himself, the most guilty man in Israel, but upon the servant of Jehovah. And Elijah answers, "I have not troubled Israel" answers the king of Israel who taxes him with it "but thou" for this was the truth "but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table." It was a challenge given a fair and open challenge by the prophet. It was to be a question between God and Baal, and this was to be decided by Elijah on the one hand and these prophets on the other. So Ahab sends to all, and all gather together. "And Elijah came unto all the people and said, "How long halt ye between two opinions? if Jehovah be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of Jehovah; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under; and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of Jehovah: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken."
And so it was done. Elijah tells the prophets to choose the bullock, and dress it first; and so they do. "And they called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice" for Elijah would make them feel their folly and their wickedness "that there was neither voice nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of Jehovah that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones," for there must be the testimony always of the full people of God. No surer mark will you find throughout the whole of the Old Testament of the line and direction which the Spirit of God gives of what is according to Himself than this, that even though it were a man isolated as no man ever more felt himself to be than Elijah, nevertheless, that man's heart was with the whole people of God. Therefore it was not merely ten stones to represent the actual number of the tribes that he was immediately concerned with, but twelve. That is, his soul took in the people of God in their whole twelve-tribe nationality as God's people, for faith never can do less than that. Never can it content itself with a part; it must have all God's people for God. This is what, at any rate, his soul desired, and this is what his faith contemplated, and on this the judgment was to take its course.
"And Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob unto whom the word of Jehovah came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: and with the stones he built an altar in the name of Jehovah; and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood." There must be the fullest proof here that, if on the one hand, in trying the poor Gentile widow there was no weakening of the trial, so still less where God's own honour was concerned, and the disproof of Baal's pretensions. Therefore it was not anything that would feed the fire, but rather put it out if it were fire from man. "Fill four barrels with water and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time." There was therefore the fullest witness on his part.
"And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near "not merely the people to him, but the prophet to the Lord. He drew near to that which was to be the witness of His power, of His testimony, of His own name and glory "and said, Jehovah God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word." How blessed! It was a secret between God and His prophet, but it was a secret divulged now before there was any answer that all the profit of the answer might belong to the people and that the word of the Lord might be enhanced and glorified in their eyes.
"Hear me, O Jehovah, hear me, that this people may know that thou art Jehovah God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of Jehovah fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, Jehovah, he is the God; Jehovah, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there." For we must remember, and it is an important thing in looking at all these operations of the ancient testimonies of God to understand it, that a prophet had his warrant for what he did from God that not only the word of the Lord, but the power of God that accompanied it, was his warrant. Therefore we do not find God and the prophet at all acting according to the mere letter of the law. It was not that the law was set aside any more than, as I said before, the natural laws of creation are set aside in the case of a miracle. Prophecy did not set aside the law of the Lord, but prophecy was the special intervention of the law of the Lord and the ways of the Lord without any setting aside of the law. The law had its course where the law was owned, but these prophets who were acting thus were where the law was not owned, and, accordingly, there God acted according to His sovereignty. It was therefore no infraction of the law. The law had its own place according to its own proper sphere, but where it was disowned and where there was idolatry set up instead, there God acted according to His own sovereignty.
Accordingly, it was no question of going up to the temple at Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice. It was no question of calling in the priests or anything of that kind; it was enough that God warranted, and the power of God that accompanied was the sanction of His warrant to this prophet. And what could have been more so than the fire of Jehovah coming down even to the altar, licking up all the water in the trench? And it is the more remarkable, too, that this very character of miracle is what Satan will imitate in the latter day. The same power that God used, either in the days of Elijah when it was a question of Jehovah, or in the days of the Lord Jesus, when it was a question of Messiah, will be imitated by the devil, and will deceive the world, for fire is to come down from heaven in the sight of men in the latter day. It is not said, really, but, "in the sight of men." As far as men can see it will be the fire of Jehovah. It will not be really so. But this will completely ensnare men, who will then, more than ever, be on the watch for material proofs and present instances of the power of God. The whole story of evidences will have been exploded as a fable, and men will no longer attach any importance to the record of what they consider the myths of Scripture! Indeed, they have come to that already. These very facts that carry the stamp of divine truth upon their face are now treated as the mythology of Israel, just as the miracles of the New Testament are treated as the mythology of Christianity. And the one effort of learning on the part of men of the world, now is, in general, to account for it to trace their connection with the fables of the heathen in one form or another. Clearly all this is dissolving, as much as possible, confidence in the word. And then will come something positive, not merely a negative destruction of the true testimony of God, but the positive appearance before their eyes of the very same power. Thus man between these two forces will fall a victim to his own folly and to the power of Satan.
But there is more than this. Elijah now says to Ahab, "Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of abundance of rain." Yes, but no ear of man on earth heard that sound but Elijah's. "The secret of Jehovah is with them that fear him." And Elijah goes up, as well as the king, and casts himself down upon the earth, puts his face between his knees and sends his servant to look. He had heard the sound, but he wanted to get the testimony of the sight from his servant. His servant goes, and looks, but sees nothing. "And he said, Go again, seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time" patience must have its perfect work in every case "that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand." It was enough. Elijah said, "Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. And the hand of Jehovah was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel."
Now that the judgment had taken its course, he was willing and ready to be a servant of the king. But if Elijah was willing to serve the king, and did so as no man could have served him without the power of God strengthening him running and keeping up with his chariot at full speed Ahab was not prepared to serve the Lord one wit the more. "And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had, done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there" (1 Kings 19:1-21).
What! Elijah? Elijah? What is man? What is he to be accounted of? Elijah quails not at the message of the Lord. There was no quailing there, but there is at this message of Jezebel's! And thus it is that the greatest triumphs of faith often precede the greatest failure; for, beloved friends, it is not triumph that, keeps a man, it is dependence. There is nothing that has preservative power but self-emptiness, which looks to God and His resources. And this, we see, Elijah did not now, for though he was a wondrous man he was a man, and here the point is not his wonders but that he was a man, and a man that listens to Jezebel instead of looking to God. What was she to be accounted of? What was he now to be accounted of? No, there is not one of us that is worthy of one single thing apart from the Lord Jesus, and it is only just so far as we can, because of our confidence in Jesus and in His grace, afford to be nothing, that we are rich, and then we are rich indeed. If content to be so poor as to be only dependent upon the Lord we are truly rich. Elijah trembles for himself. There was the secret of it. He could not tremble for God, and he was not thinking of God, but of Elijah. No wonder therefore he shows what Elijah was what Elijah was without God.
He went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree, and he requested for himself that he might die. It is not but what we see the man of God, but still the man who was tired of life. That was not a feeling of faith. There is very often much more faith in being willing to live than in wishing to die. Wishing to die is not the proof of faith at all. I grant you that no man that knows what death is, that knows what judgment is, that knows what sin is, that knows what God is, could wish to die unless he knew the Saviour. But having known the Saviour we may wince under the trial to which we are exposed in this world. Elijah did, and he wished to die, wished to get out of the trial certainly a most unbelieving wish. The Lord never did. And there was the perfection of it. If the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane had wished to die it would have been the same failure. It could not be, and God forbid such a thought, but on the contrary the perfection of the Lord Jesus was that He did not wish to die "Not my will, but thine be done." On the contrary, He felt death, and He felt the gravity. I grant you, there was all the difference between the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and that of any other. In any other case death is a gain. Death to a believer is gain, but still we ought not to wish to gain till the Lord's time comes for it. We ought to wish to do His will, the only right wish for a saint. He said, "It is enough; now, O Jehovah, take away my life." He was impatient. "Take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers." Yet he was running away from Jezebel. He was vexed; he was unhappy. He now fails after his testimony. He, was miserable now, but after all he wanted not to die when Jezebel wanted to take his life, and now that he is here he wants to die.
So "as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of Jehovah came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights." There are those that would try to throw a question upon this one transaction on the ground of its similarity to Moses, and even to the blessed Lord; but I meet all that in the face and say they are not similar not one of them. They are each of them different. They are each exactly constituted to the particular case, and if we lost one we should have a positive gap in the scheme of divine truth. And what is the difference? Why in Moses' case there was no eating at all; no eating and drinking. It was the presence of Jehovah the enjoyed and applied presence and power of Jehovah that proved its power of sustaining, even if the people must learn that it was not with bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Surely God's own presence had not less power to sustain the man that was in it in the way that the children of Israel were not, than the manna that came down from Him.
But more than that. In the Lord Jesus Christ's case there was this difference. There we get perfection. It was not in the presence of Jehovah in the presence of His Father here it was in the presence of Satan,. and there He was kept, because He and He alone was found in the power of dependence upon God by faith. Where there was not the visible display of His presence and His glory there is nothing like the sustaining power of dependence and faith. And the Lord Jesus showed us that in its full perfection in the presence of the enemy. Thus you see the cases are all different. Elijah's was decidedly the lowest one of the three, for there there was the gift of that which miraculously sustained. It was not the power of the Lord alone without, anything, but it was what God gave power to sustain. It was therefore more what was conferred. In Moses' case it was what, was enjoyed, not conferred. It was not things or creature-things used to give him power, but it was the Creator Himself that was enjoyed. And in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ it was the Creator Himself in the most perfect self-abnegation, and dependence upon His Father.
Well, the prophet now goes forth to a cave, or the cave, for it seems to be some special one, and lodged there. "Behold the word of Jehovah [came] to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for Jehovah God of hosts." The presence of God always brings out our true state invariably. So we find in the case of the companions of our Lord Jesus Christ. Directly they get near enough to the glory they go to sleep. It does not matter whether it is glory or whether it is sorrow. There is no power in flesh, even in a saint of God nor in a prophet. There was no power to enter in either instance. The men that sleep upon the mount sleep at Gethsemane. There was One that slept not; there was only one.
And now Elijah's trial comes, and, "What doest thou here?" brings out the state of his heart. "I have been very jealous." "I have been very jealous." There was the point. It was Elijah. Elijah was full of Elijah. "I have been very jealous for the Jehovah God of hosts for the children of Israel" that was his first thought. It was not that God was not in his thoughts. He was a true saint, and I trust that no soul will admit such a thought as that I wish to lower him. But I do wish to exalt the Lord; and I do wish to draw out the profit and the blessing of the word of the Lord; and I say, beloved friends, rather than that He should not have His glory, let every man be a liar. "I have been very jealous for Jehovah God of hosts; for the children of Israel have, forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with. the sword, and I, even I, only am left." It was not true. It was not "I, even I, only." He was wrong. It was not that what he said was the smallest approach to deceit. There was no deceit about Elijah none. But it was the blinding power of self even in a most true saint of God, for self always blinds, and the one and only thing that gives us to see clearly is when self is judged. "When thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light." Now singleness of eye means that instead of having self as the centre which is occupied with every object around, or, at any rate, with such objects as engage me for the moment one object fills me. The eye is single then, and then only.
That was not the case with Elijah. God was not his first thought. Self was possessing his mind as well as God. It was not what God was for Elijah, but what Elijah was for God. After he was grieved and wounded this is what it came to "I, even I, only." "And he said, Go forth and stand upon the mount before Jehovah. And behold Jehovah passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before Jehovah; but Jehovah was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but Jehovah was not in the earthquake." The Lord was not there either. "And after the earthquake a fire, but Jehovah was not in the fire." He was not in any of these exertions of judicial power. The time will come for wind, and earthquake, and fire, but not yet. It was the due testimony. It was the testimony for the prophet to bring in God, for that is the very business of the prophet to bring in God, as we see in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 that where there is prophecy, the man, if he were an unbeliever, is smitten in his conscience and falls down and says, "God is in you of a truth." That is the effect of it the sense of the presence of God being there, not merely in the person that prophesies. It is not that God is in the prophet, but God is in you, the people of God in the assembly of God a much more important thing than even in the prophet.
And so now, God was in none of these exertions of judicial power all most truly of God, but still they were of God and not God. Where was He? And how? "After the fire a still small voice." Who would have thought of finding God there? None. None, perhaps, save those that have seen Jesus. Elijah learns, but he never would have thought of it. He learns it. He never could have anticipated it. He could follow, and does follow. He had to be taught. He needed it. "And it was so when Elijah heard it" for he was a true man of God "that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?" Was he brought down to the true point yet? Not quite yet. He said, "I have been very jealous." There he is again. "I have been very jealous." There it is again. "I have been . . . the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I, only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away. And Jehovah said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha" solemn word that for Elijah! "Elisha, the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room."
Elijah's work Elijah's proper work was closed. It was not that he died yet for indeed he was not to die, but to be translated nor was it that he did not yet wonderful deeds. It was not that there was not a lingering. But he was sentenced. He was sentenced to die, as it were. His proper work was closed, and this, too, because, as far as he was concerned, as far as the ability went, as far as he had failed to answer according to the grace of God towards His people he had failed just as another before him had failed, and there is a singular resemblance between the two. Moses had failed at a most critical point before. Moses had not sanctified Jehovah when the great trial came, for when Jehovah was full of grace towards the people, Moses, smitten by the people's dishonour that they had put upon him and his brother, resented it, and Moses would have brought out something judicial. Moses would have liked the wind or the earthquake, or the fire, just as Elijah would. He would have liked to have burnt up Jezebel and all the rest of them. No doubt they deserved it, no doubt of it. But where was God in it? Where was God? Was this what God had called him to? Elijah failed the Lord at this most serious crisis in the dealing with His people. Instead of sanctifying Him he had, on the contrary, isolated himself, and here separated himself from the twelve tribes. He no longer, as it were, reared the twelve stones for an altar for all Israel before the Lord God: He found the Lord true to His name, but Elijah now was filled with the thought of his own injured honour his own slighted place his own power before Jezebel. Elijah accordingly was in a complaining, murmuring spirit. Even though a most true man of God, there was no real representation of the Lord God of Israel in such a state, and the consequence is Elijah not only must call forth others for whatever God gave them in His providence to do, but he must hand over his prophetic gift to another man in his room. It was a solemn word from God for Elijah.
And mark, too, how completely God shows the connection of this. "Yet I have left me," says He, "after all you have been saying as to 'I, and I only' yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him." A sorrowful tale that it should be so that out of all the thousands of Israel there should be but seven thousand; but still there were seven thousand, instead of Elijah, and Elijah alone, left. Elijah was wrong, and he was wrong most of all because he had not known this from the Lord. He ought to have known it, for I am persuaded of this, that where our heart is with the Lord, where we look for God, the shall see God. No doubt if people are always on the hunt for evil they will always find evil enough in such a world as this, and there is no great spirituality in seeing and pronouncing upon evil. The great thing is whether we are able to bring down the goodness of Christ to meet the evil and the difficulty. This is where faith really shows itself, not in finding fault only, and finding this or that that is not correct that is easy enough and requires no power at all, but the other does, and it requires what is greater than power grace willingness and delight of heart for that which is good.
Now Elijah failed there, and failing there he failed God, for certainly these were very precious to God, and Elijah had not seen one of them, did not know one of them, did not suspect the existence of one. If Elijah had not thought so much about himself he would have seen some of these seven thousand before, and so too, with ourselves; for I am quite persuaded that while the Lord has given us a most special place, and a place of communion with His own mind in the present ruined state of the church of God, still we must not forget the seven thousand. We must not forget that there are those that we do not see that we do not meet with that we are not in the habit of having to do with, but we must leave room for them in our hearts, in our faith. We must bear them on our soul before God. If not, the Lord has a controversy with every one who does not, as He had with Elijah then. And be assured of this, beloved friends, it is of the very greatest importance for our own souls, as well as for God's glory, that He has these, and the only question is whether we give credit for it and whether our souls take it in, not as a mere thing that we believe, but as that which acts upon our hearts, which draws us out in prayer, in intercession, in care, and in desire for every one of these seven thousand every one of the lips that have not kissed Baal.
Well, the next thing is that he finds Elisha, for that comes first, though mentioned last. He finds Elisha. "And Elijah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah," for he understood the act, "and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose."
You see there was at once the free action of prophetic power. Had he not had the mantle of Elijah he would not have been authorized to act as he did. Who is he to sacrifice thus? He understood it; he understood it well, and you observe it was not merely the return to his parents. It was not that God was not in his thoughts. He sacrificed the oxen. It was not only the thought of natural relationships. "Then he arose and went after Elijah and ministered unto him." Now the Lord does not rebuke that. Where He is concerned He rebuked it, but Elijah was not the Lord, and there was just the difference between them. Elijah had not that all-absorbing claim that was to supersede a father and a mother; but the Lord Jesus had, and therefore it was a sign of want of perception, want of faith, for the man mentioned in the New Testament to wish to go back even though it were to bury his father. That might be a great deal more, surely, than kissing father or mother as a farewell to bury him. Surely it was impossible for nature to stand out against that, but this is the very thing the Lord God of heaven and earth was there, and the very first point of faith is that His claim should be paramount; he was not even to go and first bury his father. Christ first, and not even the burial of one's father!
In the next chapter (1 Kings 20:1-43) and on this I shall not dwell long we are in the presence, for the most part, of the national place of Israel with their enemies, but yet we have the singular fact that even when judgment was approaching on the people, still when evil was judged, when the Lord was owned, He owns His people, a thing which people often wonder at. Look, for instance, at the religious world now. Well, does any one of us who understands the nature of the church of God doubt what God thinks of that which is going on under the name of the Lord Jesus there? Does any one of us doubt how horrible is the system of clergy? I am not speaking of any particular body, but of all, for to me it makes no difference whether it is clergy of Rome or clergy of anything else. It is all the same principle, for it is the direct dishonour of the Holy Ghost, and yet, beloved friends, does not God own the preaching of His word and of His gospel there? I am never surprised if there should be, apparently, ten times more effect produced in that which is flagrantly contrary to God than in that which is according to Him, and I will tell you why. If you are come out to see wonders wrought and to see great things done you have made a great mistake; and if you are caught by such things you will fall into a serious error, and you will lose the place of blessing to which you are called. Do not be deceived; we are come out to the word of the Lord. We are come out to that Person that was sent down from heaven to represent the Lord Jesus Christ here, and it is no question of what results; it is no question of great things done. On the contrary, wherever anything on our part becomes great, or becomes an object, or becomes something for us, depend upon it there is something human in it undiscovered; there is something of nature that is unjudged infallibly so. We are called to the despised One, we are called to the rejected One, and it is not merely so, but we are called out of what is broken or ruined, and anything that would gainsay the breach and the ruin is not true in the sight of God; and if so I say that unless our souls are prepared to cleave to the Spirit of God and the word of God, apart from all appearances, we are unworthy of the place that God has given us.
And therefore, shall one be jealous of the mighty grace of God working? I rejoice in it. Why, there are persons that get their thousands where we get our tens, and shall I not rejoice in these thousands that go to hear, even though it may be a most imperfect testimony though it may be mixed with a great deal that is fleshly and contrary to God? Shall we not rejoice that God awakens souls and that souls are brought to Him; that there were hundreds converted, if there were hundreds, or that there were thousands converted, if there were thousands? Certainly, let God do it. We love to hear of it. So we find in this very case, because, after all, it is a great mercy in the midst of the ritualism and infidelity of the day, that there are persons, although they are hand in glove with ritualists and rationalists, yet who, for all that, are preaching Christ. Most miserable that they are obliged to own, perhaps, a rationalistic bishop, or a ritualistic one! But yet for all that, they are godly men, and they preach the gospel as far as they know the gospel, and are blest often largely: I do not say deeply. You will never find the man in that state who has got, what I should call, solid peace. At least I have never seen one, and I have seen many; but I do say that, although you will not find a deep work in that state, you will find an extensive one, and that is exactly what I bless God for, because if it seemed to be deep it would not be true. You cannot have what is deep where things are false, but you may have a wide scattering of the seed and a great extent, apparently, of result from it, and you may have that which looks very fair, because there is nothing that keeps up weakness so much as great appearances. Well, that is the case there. And accordingly one can rejoice, and the more so because judgment is coming; and therefore that God should gather out of what is going to be judged is what one delights in.
So it was here. The Lord had partially dealt with the evil in Israel. He had smitten down, and Ahab was there and had seen it, and these prophets had been destroyed by the mere prophet of God, Elijah himself, and God was free therefore to give an apparent blessing and a real blessing, as far as it went.
A most remarkable change takes place. Benhadad besieges Samaria, and God, by the direction of a prophet, sends out even the feeble part of the army, because there must be honour put upon that which is known not the warriors, but the armour-bearers and the Syrians are demolished, and they learn not that God was against them. No, it was "the god of the hills." They knew very well that Samaria was a hill, and Jerusalem was a hill, and they thought that the Jehovah God of Israel was only a god of the hills. Well, the next time they would go into the valleys and they would see whether the God of Israel was able to meet, them there; but the God of Israel was the God of the hills and of the valleys as much as of the hills; and there they are beaten more disastrously on the second occasion than on the first, for there was a challenge given by them and God answers, and they were overwhelmed.
Well, one might have thought to look at the outside, "What a good state Ahab was in now," or, "The children of Israel." Not at all. They are going to be thoroughly judged, but inasmuch as there was a measure of the outward holding of the true God a measure of truth and of honesty so far the king was a party. He was in the presence of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. God did, so far, grant this outward mercy from His hand. The enemies of Israel were utterly put to nought, and yet, for all that, there was no soundness in the king. And this became apparent from another circumstance deeply to be considered by us. When Ben-hadad now fled, a man that had been so bold and vaunting, his servants said unto him, "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life. So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother. Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Ben-hadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Ben-hadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Ben-hadad said unto him, The cities which my father took from thy father I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away."
But God had seen and God had heard. "And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of Jehovah, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him. Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of Jehovah, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee." And so it was. He found another man. He said the same. The man smote him and wounded him. Now he could be a sign a sign to king Ahab and he goes. "And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it. And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets. And he said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall be for his life, and thy people for his people. And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria."
Mercy is not always of God. There are times when God's honour is concerned, when mercy is a curse, when mercy is purely human and purely according to self-will, and the more deceitful because it seems so fair. There are times when to spare the enemy of the Lord is to fail entirely in meeting the Lord's will and the Lord's glory. And so it was now, and we too have to do with the very same principle; and let us look to it, beloved friends, that whenever the time comes to stand firm, though it may seem to be showing an unkindness though it may seem to be a rejecting those that would gladly avail themselves of mercy on the contrary we are bound to be firm against that which overthrows the glory of the Lord. God only can show us when mercy is right, and when it is fatal. Ahab entirely failed the Lord, and this becomes most apparent in the next chapter, on which I will not dwell in this lecture. The vineyard of Naboth becomes an object, and Ahab cowers before the difficulty even of that which he coveted. But the wife had none. Possessed of not one link of feeling with the people of God, an enemy, although the wife of the king of Israel it was nothing to her to rob an Israelite. It was nothing to her to shed the blood of the guiltless. It was nothing to her to fly in the face of the Lord Jehovah, and what her weak and guilty husband shrank from she stimulates him to. Jezebel has therefore an undying, but a most miserable memory in the word of God, and the last book of Scripture does not fail still to bring before us the sad character and way of Jezebel for our instruction.
So Naboth perishes, but his blood was watched by the Lord, and the word comes forth, too, in consequence, through Elijah. "Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine. And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of Jehovah. Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every man child, and him that is shut up and left in, Israel, and will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin. And of Jezebel also spake Jehovah, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat" (1 Kings 21:18-24).
Nevertheless, Ahab humbled himself, and in consequence the judgment lingers, and the word of the Lord meets his trembling heart as he humbled himself and walked softly. The blow was only to fall in the days of his sons. Ahab reigns; his next son reigns too. On Jehoram it falls. The word of the Lord never fails. But for all that we find in the very next chapter that this same man is led away by false spirits, by evil prophets, and that he is slain according to the word of a true prophet of Jehovah, and the dogs do lick up his blood, and his son succeeds him. And then Jehoshaphat reigns, but the chapter does not end before we have another, and a most sorrowful, picture, for the pious king of Judah seeks an alliance with the guilty, idolatrous king of Israel. Oh, what a solemn warning this is for us, for it was not merely that the guilty man sought him, but he sought the guilty king of Israel. And what was the consequence? He becomes the servant of Israel's wicked purposes. Never does the king of Israel join in what was of God. You never can, by an alliance with what is unfaithful, raise or recover the unfaithful. The faithful man sinks to the level of the unfaithful, instead of lifting the unfaithful out of his infidelity.
I need not say more now. I commit the whole details of it as most profitable for every soul that respects and loves the word of the Lord.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/1-kings-20.html. 1860-1890.
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14